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Kelsey Sheehy/MEDILL

Maria Belen Segura, right, and two of her three children spoke at an immigration reform rally this weekend. Her husband is being detained by federal officials. Behind the children is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate.

Chicagoans tell Emanuel to stay in D.C. until immigration bill passes

by Kelsey Sheehy
Sep 28, 2010

Don’t come back to Chicago without handling immigration reform.

That’s the message Chicago immigration reform advocates want delivered to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Maria Pesqueira, president of Mujeres Latinas en Acción, asked U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, both Democrats, to tell Emanuel that if he wants the support of the immigrant community in a mayoral race, he should make sure a plan to grant citizenship status to certain groups who are here now illegally.

The suggest came Saturday at Casa Michoacan in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, whereDurbin and Gutierrez joined leaders from the Latino community at a rally for immigration reform and to support  Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias, who now is state treasurer, told the mostly Latino crowd he would vote for the measure, known as the DREAM Act, if he is elected in November.

One member of the crowd spoke for many in welcoming Giannoulias’ support.

Cindy Agustin, a University of Chicago senior, said she was happy to hear a candidate explicitly say he supported the act. 

“It’s a relief,” Agustin said. “At this point we just want a candidate who says, ‘Yes, I’m for immigration.” 

Agustin said many candidates she contacted while volunteering for the Immigrant Justice League told her they supported some type of reform, but seldom gave specifics. 

“When we hear a candidate say they don’t have enough information,” she said, “we think that’s not true, that they’re lying.” 

Flanked by Durbin and Gutierrez, Giannoulias criticized his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, for not taking a position on the act. 

The DREAM Act, introduced by Durbin last year, would give undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before age 16 a chance at conditional citizenship if they graduate from high school and advance to college or serve in the military.

 Kirk’s campaign representative said the congressman’s immigration focal point is border control. 

“Until we control our border, hold employers accountable and properly engage Mexico, no immigration reforms will work,” Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.  

Progress on the DREAM Act stalled last week, when Senate Democrats failed to get the 60 votes needed to halt debate on the act, presented to the Senate as part of a military-spending bill, and bring the entire measure to a vote. 

To sporadic chants of “Sí, se puede,” and “We are not defeated,” both Gutierrez and Durbin told the largely Latino crowd they plan to put the DREAM Act back on the voting agenda before the end of the year. 

That’s an idea that Agustin said gave her hope and direction. 

“After Tuesday’s vote we were a little like, ‘OK, what do we do now?” she said. “The DREAM Act isn’t dead yet, and we know that.”